“Great Is the Mystery of Christmas!”
(John 1:1-4, 14 – Christmas Day – December 25, 2020)
John 1:1-4, 14 – 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus, our Savior who has come,
In 1 Timothy 3:16 the apostle Paul wrote: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”
These words describe the manifestation of God in our flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Truly this is a great mystery, beyond our human understanding. Who can explain how it can be that the infinite God and Creator, whom the universe cannot contain, manifested Himself in our world? How can it be that He dwelt among us in our flesh, as the Baby born at Christmas and laid in a manger? How can it be that He lived among us as the perfect Son of Man, who would suffer and die on the cross, before being received up in glory? Even the angels must have looked on with great wonder, as they beheld God being born in our flesh to live, die, and rise to win our eternal salvation.
Today we join the angels in marveling at this greatest miracle of all. The Incarnation is beyond our finite understanding; yet it is what God’s Word teaches. In order to have a saving faith, we need not be able to explain how God performs His unfathomable wonders; we need only to believe. The faith God gives us receives His revealed truth, as it says in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And faith simply thanks God for coming to us as our grace-filled Savior.
“Great Is the Mystery of Christmas.” In our text, God reveals the truth of this great mystery to which our faith clings: 1) The eternal Word of God… 2) became flesh and dwelt among us… 3) as our gracious Savior.
1) The eternal Word of God…
In verses 1-2 the apostle John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” This takes us back into the unfathomable depths of eternity, way back where no one has been and no one can go. It takes us to the side of God, before there was a beginning of creation, before time itself was created, before humans ever existed or counted time.
Way back there in eternity when only God existed, God was speaking. Here we are introduced to the Word of God. But His Word is not just a voice or a message; He is a Person. In fact, there are two Persons mentioned here – “the Word” and “the God.” In the sentence, “the Word” is distinct from “the God.” So the Word is His own Person; as it says: “the Word was with God.”
Yet John makes it clear that the Word is not different from God. In fact, “the Word was God.” The Word is of the same essence as the God who speaks. Later in verse 14, the Word is identified as “the only begotten of the Father.” Therefore, the Word is the second Person of the Triune God, as described in Scripture. From eternity, long before He ever became flesh and dwelt among us, the Son is begotten of God the Father. He always has shared this relationship of one essence with His Father. As we say in the Nicene Creed, He is: “God of God, Light of light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
This is as John goes on to report in verse 3: “All things were made through Him.” Thus at a certain point, from unfathomable realms of eternity, the Word of God spoke. And when God speaks, all things happen according to His will. In Genesis 1 we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But what God did, He did through the Word. As God created the world, He said again and again: “Let there be… and it was so.” At creation, there was the Word in action as the voice of God. So John is right to say of the Word in verse 3-4: “without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” God thought, and the Word spoke; and by His will the universe and all that is in it came into existence. At His Word, Adam and Eve and all their children, you and I, were given the light of life.
And so it has been through the history of mankind. When God has had a message to speak to His human creations, He has sent the divine Word to speak it. God did not want to remain a mystery to us. So the Word of God has spoken to us through His prophets and apostles, revealing His mysteries to us in Holy Scripture.
2) …made His dwelling among us
Now we come to a greater mystery, as John says in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” At a certain point in human history, which we now call Christmas, this eternal Word of God came down to live on earth, among humanity. We know pretty well what He did, since Scripture reveals it. But how He did it is a mystery. Who can explain it? The eternal Word of God, who was with God in the beginning – He who is God and Creator of all – now entered His creation. The eternal Son, begotten of God His Father, entered time as one born of His human mother.
Again, the church fathers have tried to explain the mystery by writing in the Athanasian Creed that He is: “God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.”
When we say the words, we do not understand how this works. How can God, who is limited by nothing, become human and be limited by everything? How can He who fills all things in the universe be limited by His mother’s womb, or by the swaddling cloths, or by the sideboards of a manger, or by the arms of Mary, or by the commands of Joseph? How is it that He who owns all things and has need of nothing, comes to depend on His mother for milk? How can it be that He who is rich in His heavenly Kingdom of glory, comes poor and lowly among men, not to be served but to become the Servant of all? We do not understand it fully. We are left exclaiming with Paul: great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16)!
3) …as our personal Savior.
But now we come to the greatest mystery of all: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” to save the world from sin, and to be our gracious Savior. Sin is a dreary thing to think about on Christmas morning; but this is what the mystery of Christmas was all about. This is the whole reason the eternal Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary. As the angel explained to Joseph: “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Now sin is no mystery to us. We know all about sin. We have lived with sin and its effects all our lives. We know the things we do wrong, and we know the things we fail to do right. Scripture tells us our sins condemn us before God. There would be no way out of our problem, if it depended on us. We can try to explain away our sins, make excuses for them, and ignore them. But nothing takes away the hard reality that our sins were going to cut us off from the life of the eternal God; our sins were going to land us in hell.
But for this reason, the Word of God spoke again; and all things happened according to His will that first Christmas. The eternal Son was born in our flesh as the Savior of a world of sinners. His angel revealed the mystery to shepherds outside Bethlehem, as we hear in Luke 2: “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then His whole angel choir joined in praising this newborn Lord and Savior: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-11, 14). One day His forerunner, John the Baptist would announce the Savior as He stepped forth to begin His work: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Then the Word of God Himself would speak, revealing in Person the mystery of God’s love in saving sinners. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
And not only did the Word of God speak; He acted in our behalf. The holy Son of God in our flesh lived a life of perfect obedience before His Father, in place of our imperfect obedience. As the innocent Son of God in our flesh, He carried our whole load of sin to the cross and died the death we deserved.
Therefore, we can say with the apostle John in verse 14: “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In the Savior who was born in our flesh at Christmas, we see what makes God really good and gracious and glorious. Through the innocent life and death of His Son for us, God forgives all our sins, and He gives us the gift of eternal with Him.
Therefore great is the mystery of Christmas! The Word became flesh as our Savior. Way back there in the depths of eternity, the only-begotten Son, with His Father, saw you and me and loved us. Way back there in that stable at Bethlehem, the Word was born because He loved us. Way back there, while He was obeying His Father’s will, while He was suffering pain and death, the Word of God who took the name Jesus was thinking of you and me. Way back there, He had us in mind when He rose from the grave to assure us that God really does forgive all our sins.
So it is that on this Christmas morning, we rejoice in the great mystery of Christmas. With the eyes of faith, we behold the Baby laid in a manger; and we see the eternal Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us as our gracious Savior. We join the herald angels and saints through the ages, singing: “Glory to God in the highest.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.